New steel research center honors first Iverson Chair

FoundryA new center for steel manufacturing research has been renamed to honor the legacy of the late Kent D. Peaslee, a metallurgical engineering professor who helped establish the center. The University of Missouri System Board of Curators approved the naming of the Kent D. Peaslee Steel Manufacturing Research Center at Missouri S&T during a board meeting last June.

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S&T to lead small modular reactor consortium

SmallModularReactorAmeren and Westinghouse Electric Co. are tapping into Missouri S&T’s nuclear engineering expertise to lead a new research effort for the nuclear energy industry.

In July, those companies joined S&T, the University of Missouri System, the University of Missouri-Columbia and Missouri Technology Corp. to announce the multi-university Small Modular Reactor Research and Education Consortium. S&T, home to the state’s first nuclear reactor, will lead the consortium. A satellite center will be established on the Columbia campus.

The consortium will identify and develop technology that supports small modular nuclear reactors and improves the security of the energy they produce. Smaller than traditional nuclear power plants, SMRs provide more flexibility for generating electricity. Many are designed to use fuel more efficiently, thereby reducing waste.

“The consortium will support member-driven research,” says Joseph Smith, the Wayne (CE’67) and Gayle Laufer Chair of Energy at Missouri S&T and executive director of the SMR Research and Education Consortium.

“An industrial advisory board representing each consortium member will determine the research projects and direction. We will be working on projects that are of interest to our members, and everyone will benefit from the research and education that result. The work of this consortium will have a significant impact on energy and energy security, and will help the U.S. maintain its leadership role in science and technology.”

In the only laboratory of its kind in the nation, Muthanna Al-Dahhan (left) is developing methods to measure and track how materials move in a pebble-bed small modular reactor. He’s also looking at how the pebbles — simulated by large marbles — would transfer heat and disperse gas in such a reactor.

The visualized data is strong with them

V4DiRMembers of the 2013 V4DiR Team are, from left: Nathan Jarus, David Zemon, Nick Eggleston, Robert Higgins, Mark Bookout and Travis Bueter.

Making sense of ever-increasing mounds of data is a huge challenge facing researchers today. But staff and students in Missouri S&T’s information technology department have come up with a way to help researchers make sense of all that information by turning it into 3-D visualizations.

Make that 4-D visualizations, because the tool created by IT’s research support services team at S&T shows 3-D imagery over time.

The tool is called Visualizing Four Dimensions in Rolla, or V4DiR for short. The IT folks call it “Vader,” as in Darth. But unlike Luke Skywalker’s Star Wars nemesis, V4DiR sheds light, not darkness, by letting researchers see their data in 3-D over various time spans.

On campus, RSS director Mark Bookout and his team have been demonstrating V4DiR’s power by showing researchers maps-in-motion of natural disasters: all of the world’s earthquake occurrences from 1920 through 2012 as well as tornado activity in the U.S. since 1950. The earthquake data is also being used by Stephen Gao, a professor of geology and geophysics who is studying seismic activity in the Horn of Africa region.

That on-screen loop of information can be manipulated to help researchers home in on specific data points. For instance, the visualization can be tilted on an axis to provide greater levels of depth or various angles. Or it can be stopped if researchers want to examine data from a particular time frame.

“We can pinpoint exactly where on the earth, as well as how deep within the earth, an earthquake has happened,” says Nick Eggleston, a junior computer science major who leads the project.

“V4DiR has the potential to enhance any sort of research,” Bookout says. “It allows us to use our natural pattern-recognition capabilities to isolate interesting groupings of information. And our association with vendors ensures that we have enough computing horsepower to build and display very large data sets in quick order.”

New name, broader emphasis for biomedical center

The five-year-old Center for Bone and Tissue Repair and Regeneration now has a new name: the Center for Biomedical Science and Engineering. The change took effect July 1. “We believe this new name is appropriate, as we are broadening the scope of the center,” says center director Len Rahaman, professor of materials science and engineering.

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Giant forces in super-strong nanomaterials

GaoandYang

Jie Gao (left) and Xiaodong Yang report that a new class of nanoscale slot waveguides pack 100 to 1,000 times more transverse optical force than conventional silicon slot waveguides.

In a study that could lead to advances in the emerging fields of optical computing and nanomaterials, Jie Gao and Xiaodong Yang, both assistant professors of mechanical engineering, report that a new class of nanoscale slot waveguides pack 100 to 1,000 times more transverse optical force than conventional silicon slot waveguides.

The findings, which were published in the Sept. 24 issue of the journal Optics Express, could lead to advances in developing optical computers, sensors or lasers.

Gao and Yang describe the unusual optical and mechanical properties of nanometer-scale metal-dielectric structures called metamaterials. Using computers, they simulated nanometer-scale models of metamaterial slot waveguides, which are structures designed to channel beams of light from one area to another. Waveguides function like tiny filaments or the wires of an integrated circuit, but on a much smaller scale.

For their study, the Missouri S&T researchers simulated slot waveguides made of layered structures of silver and a dielectric material arranged like the alternating bread and meat in a club sandwich. A nanometer — visible only with the aid of a high-power electron microscope — is one billionth of a meter, and some nanomaterials are only a few atoms in size.

Gao and Yang simulated what would happen with modeled identical waveguides stacked with a tiny air gap between them. They then measured the transverse optical force between the waveguides. Optical force refers to the way beams of light can be made to attract or repel each other, as magnets do.

They found that “the transverse optical forces in slot waveguides of hyperbolic metamaterials can be more than two orders of magnitude stronger than that in conventional dielectric slot waveguides.” For this reason, Gao and Yang describe the magnitude as “giant” in the title of their Optics Express article, “Giant transverse optical forces in nanoscale slot waveguides of hyperbolic metamaterials.”

Extreme bug boosts biofuel production

MelanieMormile

Dylan Courtney, a senior in chemical engineering, helped microbiologist Melanie Mormile patent a process to improve biofuel production using bacteria.

Using a microbe that thrives in extreme conditions, Melanie Mormile patented a process that could streamline biofuel production, making it less costly and reducing the reliance on fossil fuels.

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Remote controlled bridge monitoring

Octacopter

Computer engineering sophomore Chris Seto controls this “multicopter,” designed to inspect bridges safely and efficiently by remote control.

The current method of inspecting bridges for structural damage is labor-intensive and, in some instances, dangerous to all involved. But Zhaozheng Yin is developing a safer, more efficient solution dubbed the “multicopter.”

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Model predicts growth of ‘Super Organism’ ant colonies

AntHillAssistant professor Chen Hou has developed a mathematical model that can predict the survival, growth and life span of ant colonies. According to Hou, smaller colonies — and the ants that inhabit them — tend to live faster, die younger and burn up more energy than larger colonies.

Preventing cataracts

Nuran Ercal (left) recently received a grant to fund the use of an antioxidant to prevent degenerative eye conditions. Pictured with Ercal is Sri Krishna Yasawi Maddirala, a Ph.D. student in chemistry.

Using eye drops prepared with the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine amide (NACA), Nuran Ercal is conducting research that could prevent or cure cataracts, macular degeneration and other degenerative eye disorders.

Ercal, the Richard K. Vitek (Chem’58)/Foundation for Chemical Research Endowed Chair in Biochemistry who is also an M.D., says NACA is better than the experimental treatment N-acetylcysteine because it crosses cell membranes easier and can be used in lower doses.

“NACA eye drops could represent an alternative to costly surgery, while greatly improving the quality of life for those afflicted,” says Ercal, who has been testing NACA on HIV-related problems, lead poisoning and other toxicities for 10 years. About four years ago she began testing it on eye disorders.

Ercal received a three-year, $378,000 research grant from the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health using preliminary data based on research by her former Ph.D. student, Joshua Carey, Chem’07, Phys’07, PhD Chem’12.

Carey’s dissertation showed how NACA could slow cataract growth on rats that had been given a solution that causes cataracts to form.

“The NACA solution prevented cataracts from forming,” says Ercal. “Our research will build on Josh’s research, to see if NACA can actually reverse the degeneration as well.”

How many engineers does it take to change an LED bulb?

Suzanna Long is helping MoDOT develop a schedule for replacing LED bulbs in the state’s traffic signals.

A group of S&T researchers led by Suzanna Long, assistant professor of engineering management and systems engineering, is working with the Missouri Department of Transportation to measure the intensity of LED traffic lights.

Light-emitting diodes or LEDs have replaced standard bulbs in many of the nation’s traffic lights. Even though they’re brighter than standard bulbs and have a longer life, knowing when to replace them is a guessing game, Long says.

While working with MoDOT on a data-driven replacement schedule for LEDs, her team created a laser-guided device to measure LED intensity from the side of the road at night instead of requiring technicians to physically check traffic lights using a bucket truck.

The project, named one of the 2012 “Sweet 16” High Value Research Projects by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, appeared in the Engineering Management Journal’s special issue on transportation management last September.

Working with Long are Mariesa Crow, the Fred W. Finley Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering; Abhijit Gosavi and Ruwen Qin, assistant professors of engineering management and systems engineering; and C.H. Wu, professor of electrical and computer engineering.